Trading Thoughts Blog

Three Key Considerations for Successful International Expansion

It seems like all over the internet there are guides giving advice on specific locations or countries. Some of their advice can range from very specific to extremely broad, making it all the more confusing as to what advice might carry over into a different country. But what advice do all these guides have in common?

Here are some general rules to apply when expanding your business to any country:

1. Understand the Market

Market research is absolutely vital when trying to reach a certain segment. When expanding internationally, this step is crucial. Markets vary widely by country and region, market research for a specific area/region is highly recommended.

Some things to consider while putting together market research:

  • Local currencies
  • Potential client base in your market segment
  • Number of local competitors currently in your target segment
  • Foreign competitors in the desired market segment

If performing business from your home country and shipping to a foreign country, ask yourself: Do they take my currency? Could I take their local currency? What kind of people am I trying to sell my product to? What type of people need my product? Which companies in that market are already selling a product similar to what I am trying to sell? Is that market oversaturated?

Asking and answering these types of questions can help verify that your business can become successful in your next venture.

2. Know the Regional Politics

On the outside, a venture might seem extremely viable, but if the political climate is not advantageous then everything can stop in its tracks. If governmental entities are unwelcoming to foreigners or certain types of businesses, then adjustments should be made accordingly.

 Things to look out for regarding regional politics include:

  • Recently passed legislation regarding the business sector your company is attempting to enter
  • Any tariffs or exceptional high duties
  • Past and present tensions between the country of origin and the country your business is attempting to expand to

Has the country you’re operating from been at odds with the country you are trying to perform business with recently? Have the respective governments responded by putting tariffs and other restrictions on each other? Such actions would make trying to get your product within that country extremely expensive and could potentially ruin the competitive advantage you once held over your foreign competitors.

Additionally, if the country residents are highly involved in these politics, they might boycott your product anyway. It is important to consider this a highly relevant factor when attempting to expand internationally.

3. Study the Culture

The culture difference can be a make-or-break point when introducing a new business within a foreign culture. Certain topics might be considered more taboo, other countries may hold more conservative values, and different countries might have almost no boundaries at all.

Here are some techniques to get an accurate grasp of a country’s culture:

  • Analyze Their Media - If a country’s media broadcasts highly controversial or offensive content, business in this country may not be good for business. Media analysis can also often give you an idea of what’s popular with your demographic and help you advertise abroad.
  • Look at Their Laws - Some countries might ban certain demographics from certain activities by the letter of their law. In that case, it would not be wise to release a product that would make those demographics legally vulnerable or unsafe.
  • Know Their History - Countries historically go through phases, yet many aspects of their culture remain constant over time. It’s important to understand major historical movements that have happened within your target country, how they affected or changed the culture, and whether are not some of those impacts are still lasting today. Additionally, it is vital to identify ongoing movements and build that into your brand identity for marketing within that country.

Also, understand that cultures within countries can also vary by region as well, so the more specific an analysis is to the target area the better. It is vital to know if your product or service would transition well within a country’s culture to gauge how successful it has the potential to be. For example, avoid selling products that go against a religious belief held by the majority or confront a cultural taboo in the country you are looking to do business in. It is vital to identify whether your product has a “fit” within the culture you are trying to sell to.

With all three of these major factors in mind, you are now ready to successfully expand your business abroad and find yourself a market with the perfect fit for your product or service and the Van Andel Global Trade Center (VAGTC) can help! Whether you are a company just starting to consider global expansion or have been at it for a few years, VAGTC can help you go global or expand into new markets. With funding opportunities available for small and medium-sized businesses from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) through the Michigan State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), there is no better time than now to start or expand your export operations!

For more specialized information on expanding your business internationally and getting connected to the MEDC and STEP, schedule a consultation with the Van Andel Global Trade Center to answer any questions and get connected.



Natalie Bremmer is a Student Assistant at   GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center . She is a Senior currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Finance, Human Resource Management, and General Management at Grand Valley State University. She enjoys lifting weights, getting lost in a good video game, spending time with friends, and going on long hikes.

Edited by Parker Mackey, a student assistant at the Van Andel Global Trade Center. 

May 18, 2023

Gains & Guidance in Germany

            Germany has one of the most successful economies in the world, ranking fourth globally in GDP. This is largely due to its reliable infrastructure and workforce, as well as its positive social and legal climate. Germany has a wealth of scientific and technological research with firm practical applications. 

            Efficient transportation networks and high nationwide competence in English make Germany an accessible location to foster business partnerships. In addition, impressive import-export statistics state that Germany is “the second largest importer and third largest exporter of consumer oriented agricultural products worldwide, and by far the most important European market for foreign producers.”

However, there are a few hurdles foreign companies may face. Because Germany has such a successful economy and leads most of Europe in trade, it reserves the right to be choosy with whom forms meaningful partnerships. This means that companies must go through long bureaucratic processes when setting up shop in the country. However, these “drawbacks” simply mean that the chance to trade with German companies should be regarded as a high accomplishment. 

            German business etiquette is more formal than other trade relationships may be. Success in the business world of Germany relies on these key components:

  • Punctuality: German partners expect punctuality, including setting meetings well ahead and arriving on time and prepared. 
  • Formality: Foreign partners are expected to maintain a high level of formality, including using titles and steering clear of controversial or personal topics. Partners should allow the German party to initiate more casual conversations. Additionally, while many German people are proficient in English, it’s considered a thoughtful gesture to translate documents into German.
  • Detail: German business partners appreciate organization. According to Wolters Kluwer,  “The German mindset values detail, order, and structure. Expect to examine each aspect of a project in detail with your contacts.”

Interested in learning more?  Join us on May 24th for a virtual Business Travelers Series session on Navigating Germany! We will cover how-tos and best practices for doing business in the German market, as well as, how to maneuver through cultural nuances business professionals often face while working with or traveling to Germany. This event is generously sponsored by The Gerald R.Ford International Airport  and  Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).


About the Contributor

Parker Mackey is a Student Assistant at GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center . They are a 2nd-year junior pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Arts, emphasis painting. They also work for GVSU’s History Department, transcribing for the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project . They enjoy painting, hiking, and listening to folk punk.

May 8, 2023

Updates on Forced Labor Provisions in 2023

Forced labor has been a huge issue that U.S. Customs and other government agencies have been attempting to crack down on as of late 2021, the majority of 2022, and continued efforts going into 2023.

By the Congressional Research Service definition, forced labor is considered to be “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily.”

Introduction to Section 307

Section 307 under the Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation of any products that were created using forced labor.

Here is how Section 307 was put into effect:

  1. Receipt of allegation or self-initiation
  2. CBP Commissioner initiated CBP an investigation.
  3. CBP Commissioner issues a Withhold Release Order (WRO)
  4. Importer may export merchandise or contest the WRO
  5. Any final readings are published in the Federal Register
  6. CBP seizes non exported merchandise and commences forfeiture proceedings

Reporting Standards

With these actions in mind, reports that are made to the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cannot be unwarranted; there are certain standards for reporting that must be met.

These standards include “any individual that has reason to believe that any class of merchandise that is being, or is likely to be, imported into the United States is being produced by Forced Labor” have a valid argument to file a claim. In accordance with 19 CFR 12.42, Port Directors and other Principal Customs Officers are mandated reporters and if someone not in this role has concerns, they may share with the Port Director or online.

Investigation Standards

Investigations regarding these reports under Section 307 also have a set of standards laid out.

These include statements regarding how an investigation is initiated “as appears warranted by the amount and reliability of the submitted information” and a Commissioner of CBP must find that the information “reasonably but not conclusively indicates that imports may be the product of forced labor” to release a WRO to the related items.

Contesting a WRO

If a company has the unfortunate luck of receiving a WRO, not all is lost– it is possible to contest a WRO with a set of procedures that were posted by the Congressional Research Service.

Here are the general guidelines for contesting a WRO:

  1. Importer has three months to contest the WRO
  2. The importer must demonstrate that “every reasonable effort” was made to show the source and type of labor used to produce an item and its parts.
  3. If WRO is not successfully contested or is not exported from the US, CBP will seize and destroy the afflicted items 
  4. CBP will then publish the date, type of merchandise, manufacturer, and status of WRO
    1. However, CBP will not post specific detentions, re-exportations, exclusions, or seizures

Forced Labor Enforcement Advancements

Though Section 307 has been around for a number of years now, advancements in the area of forced labor enforcement have increased as of recently.

During January 2022, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced the development of “first-ever focused trade strategy to combat forced labor.”

This plan entails a series of partnerships of government organizations with non-government organizations (NGO’s) and civil society organizations (CSO’s).

More specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DCS), with the aid of the NGO’s and CSO’s, will also launch supply chain criminal investigations– the first ever of its kind. The main purpose of these criminal investigations is to help identify and shut down human trafficking efforts, charge those who are directly responsible, and protect the victims of these acts.

External Applications - Combating Illegal Fishing

Surprisingly, a big sector with ongoing forced labor issues has been the live fishing industry.

A new presidential directive has led to search and investigation of fishery supply chains that are suspected of using forced labor and contributing to human trafficking in response to this growing issue.

As permitted by the new directive U.S. Customs & Border Protection are instructed to:

  1. Investigate fishing vessels and operators suspected to be harvesting seafood with forced labor and issue a withhold release orders (WRO)
  2. Share evidence with allies and partners to encourage parallel customs enforcement actions.
  3. Investigate prospective civil penalties cases against importers connected to previously issued fishing vessel WROs.

This is quite a daunting task for the CBP to do alone, so they have enlisted the help of external agencies to leverage existing and emerging technologies to detect IUU fishing and prevent or deter illegal seafood imports from entering the U.S. market as well as consider the use of countervailing duties, Section 301 tariffs, import declarations, Pelly Amendment certifications, and due diligence requirements to counter forced labor in the sea food supply chain.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has also been tasked with combating this specific issue. According to ST&R, it has been requested that USTR “engage with free trade agreement partners, preference program beneficiaries, and others to address forced labor and other abusive labor practices in fishing.” In addition, they have also been asked to “collaborate with Canada and Mexico to prohibit imports of goods, including seafood, produced in whole or in part by forced labor.”

External Applications - Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) was signed into law on December 23, 2021 by President Biden after a major issue of mass amounts of forced labor had become prevalent in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Under this act, the importation of any items, mined, manufactured, etc. fully or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China is prohibited under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 and said goods are not allowed entry into the U.S.

Even with this Act, there are some very slim exceptions. If a manufacturer is attempting to import items from this region, those goods can only enter the United States if the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) concludes that the importer complied with specific conditions and had clear evidence that the imported items were not created in part or fully by forced labor.

The UFLPA also required the integration of the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force. It is currently headed by the Secretary of Homeland Security and works in conjunction with Secretary of Commerce and Director of National Intelligence where they send a report to Congress regarding their strategy to support the CBP’s enforcement of Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 regarding items, produced with forced labor, imported from People’s Republic of China.

This Act created a lot of significant changes, so the CBP has created an importer guidance resource for assistance with the implementation of the UFLPA rebuttable presumption that went into effect June 21, 2022. 

To learn more about forced labor provisions and how these new processes might affect your company, contact the Van Andel Global Trade Center today !



Natalie Bremmer is a Student Assistant at GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center . She is a Junior currently pursuing a Bachelors in Business Administration undergraduate degree in Finance, Human Resource Management, and General Management at Grand Valley State University. She enjoys lifting weights, getting lost in a good video game, spending time with friends, and going on long hikes.

April 17, 2023

Doing Business in Australia: Culture, Mentality, and Etiquette

Original post from August 2019 
Updated January 2023

The Commonwealth of Australia, the world’s smallest continent and largest island, is a diverse country with vast iconic natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Outback, and heavily concentrated cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Being a newly established country in 1901, it was easy for the country to develop its own cultural personality. Although the culture can be described as Western with indigenous influences, foreigners may be surprised by the quirks and personal touches that Australians have made over time to the standards of their Western lifestyle.

A significant contributor to Western culture is the multinational and famed sport of rugby. Although Australia is well-known for being very much involved in competing internationally in rugby, they are famous for playing their own version as well, Australian football. Australian football can be described as a mixture of rugby, soccer, and American football, with an oval-shaped field and goalposts that resemble those of American football. To score points, players kick the ball through the set of goalposts that are on either end of the field. One of the most intriguing differences in this sport is that the players can pass to their teammates by kicking the ball or punching it with their palms, but they cannot throw it. Additionally, although Australian football is a contact sport, they do not wear any padding, only a jersey uniform.  Australian football is a very entertaining and popular sport to watch. For this reason, it is a notable contributor to the country’s economy. The Australian Football League (AFL) reported revenue of AUD$480 million in 2015.

Economically, Australia is revered as the wealthiest (per adult) country in the world, with a decently low poverty rate of 13.2% as of 2018. The United States plays a particularly important role in the economy of Australia, being that it remains their largest two-way trading partner in goods and services. This is a result of the Australian-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) that was established in 2005. The passing of this agreement has since increased the trade flow by 91%.

As a result of AUSFTA, there is no surprise that American businesses seek to further strengthen the trade relationship between the two countries. Business opportunities in Australia are of wide variety and significance. However, the quirky culture can often be intimidating for business persons from other countries. There are three key aspects to understand that will enhance a business trip to Australia by providing a deeper appreciation of the country: the business culture, mentality, and etiquette.

Australian Business Culture

Meetings in Australia can seem different from those typically held in the United States. To start, they are considerably more laid back. It is typical for Australian business persons to use colorful language (curse words) in meetings, as well as, crack jokes to lighten the mood. Additionally, it is common to be addressed by only your first name, and it is expected that you do the same. Even though it may not seem like it, Australians do take these business affairs seriously. Therefore, it is important to dress the part and be prepared for your meeting. If you are presenting a proposition or sitting as a chairman, it is expected that you be punctual and show up to the meeting a few minutes early. Also, be sure to chat about things like the weather or sports to relax the atmosphere.

Modesty and Understanding

A key factor in the business culture of Australia is modesty. Australians are very modest about their job position; it is very unattractive to them when a foreigner emphasizes their title and the greatness of their business. For this reason, it is recommended to not use an aggressive sales technique to persuade a potential partner, as most of the time it will not work. Avoid overselling your company, or coming off as self-important. It is more persuasive if the facts are laid out for them with a friendly attitude. But even if you do execute your sale in this way, they still may clearly express that they are not interested; Australian business persons are known to be very blunt and honest when considering a business contract. It is important to prepare for a straightforward rejection. Of course, this response will not be rude, but rather, more diplomatic. Nevertheless, it may take longer than expected to receive this response. This is because businesses in Australia value a team environment. The top management of a corporation will most likely consult their subordinates before deciding. No matter your position in the company, Australian businesses are very considerate of everyone’s opinion and expect that it be shared. Patience and understanding are key in these situations.

Business Etiquette in Australia

Gifts are not expected at business interactions but are greatly appreciated when given at the correct time. In Australia, it is commonly understood as bribing when a person brings a gift to a meeting before the close of a deal. If you decide to give a gift, simply have one prepared if a close or agreement arises. This will come off as congratulations and will be admired. Additionally, if invited out to dinner or drinks, do not begin to discuss business unless the counterpart does so. It can be seen as rude, or pushy if a business person attempts to bring a pitch to the table because it can cause stress and create a serious atmosphere.

If you are planning a trip to Australia for business purposes, it is recommended to understand the unique business culture, mentality, and etiquette of the country. A comprehensive education of these elements of their lifestyle will allow more of a relationship and connection to develop between two business persons of different backgrounds. And, if you have some free time in Australia, attempt to catch an Australian football game - you will not be disappointed.

Learn More

Learn more about the country, trade, and culture of Australia by registering for the Business Travelers Series: Navigating Australia on February 15, 2023 from 9am - 10am EST. This virtual event is generously sponsored by The  Gerald R. Ford International Airport  and  Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Interested in Traveling to Australia? 
Contact the Michigan Economic Development Corporation today to learn about the Michigan and Pennsylvania co-hosted trade mission to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia with an option to visit New Zealand

MI-STEP Funding From MEDC

Did you know that qualifying Michigan companies have the opportunity to receive STEP funds for International Trade Missions and Trade Shows like this one?

To find out if your company is eligible new companies must complete and submit an online intake form here. Existing clients can contact your regional international trade manager. Funds will be approved for specific and measurable export initiatives. Funds for the MI-STEP program are subject to availability. Learn more about the MI-STEP program here.


About the Contributor

Mackenzie was an undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University and a student assistant at the Grand Valley State University’s Van Andel Global Trade Center. She majored in International Business and Finance while minoring in Spanish.

January 5, 2023

Page last modified December 8, 2021